Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

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Know Before You Go

September 22, 2010

Charles Castronovo and Vladimir Chernov in Il Postino Photo: Robert Millard/LAO 2010

Los Angeles Opera will open its 25th-anniversary season tomorrow night with the world premiere of Daniel Catán’s Il Postino. On Tuesday, however, a significant crowd of donors, students, and others got a sneak preview at the final dress rehearsal. I was there, but will hold any opinions about the piece and its performance until I’ve seen the final product later this week. However, Tuesday’s rehearsal has revealed enough about the opera that it bears some description as a preview of coming attractions.

The opera is based on the 1994 Michael Radford film Il Postino. Radford’s movie in turn was based on an earlier 1985 novel and film, Ariente Paciencia by Antonio Skármeta. There are a number of significant alterations Radford made for his famous film, although both works generally concern the story of an inarticulate postman, Mario played in Catán's work by tenor Charles Castronovo. Mario is aided by famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda in his romantic aspirations towards a woman in the man’s village, Beatrice, sung by Amanda Squitieri. Skámeta sets his novel in the early 1970s close to the time of Neruda’s death and the overthrow of Allende’s socialist government by the soon-to-be dictator Pinochet. Radford moves the action of the story to a much earlier time, 1952, when Neruda was living in exile in Europe due to his political beliefs and activities. And while there is some reference to Neruda’s socialist and communist leanings in the latter film, Radford has emphasized the romantic elements of the plot.

Catán, who also wrote the libretto, sticks extremely close to Radford’s version of the story in his version of Il Postino with the setting in 1950s Italy. He keeps almost the entire narrative structure of the film and has only made slight changes by giving a bit more for Neruda, played by Placido Domingo, and his wife Mathilde to sing. There are still some allusions to the political elements of the story, but this is first and foremost a romance and rarely does it stray from that course. The opera, which will be seen in both Paris and Vienna in the coming months after its debut in L.A., is accessible, with lyrical often very beautiful music in a neo-romantic fashion. The music communicates emotional and narrative material in its own right. There is serious and challenging vocal writing throughout the piece including a number of memorable love duets and distinct arias. The great majority of the vocal music is written for one of four characters, Pablo Neruda, his wife Mathilde, Mario, and his love interest, Beatrice.

Grant Gershon is conducting a sizable orchestra for the production, which is directed by Ron Daniels with lighting from Jennifer Tipton. Much use is made of all the video and lighting equipment L.A. Opera purchased for its recent ring cycle, and several scenes rely on video animation for scenery. Several of Neruda's poems that appear in the libretto come to life visually as well with words burning onto the scrim behind the vocalists as they perform. All of this happens above a bright blue tile-patterned floor that adds a great deal of color and light to the show in addition to its obvious reference to the sea which surrounds this island and its events.

The music and content can be downright steamy at times and Mathilde, played by Christina Gallardo-Domas, appeared topless in the first romantic scene with Neruda or at least it appeared so from where I was sitting, although admittedly she was turned with her back to the audience. Before the rehearsal, it was announced that Domingo had a slight cold and had elected to walk through the rehearsal without singing in order to conserve his voice for the upcoming opening night. In the rehearsal, his role was instead sung from the side by his cover. Here’s hoping he feels better soon, because this is a significant part with some real fireworks in it for him.The rehearsal audience had a very warm response for Domingo, even when he wasn't singing, and seemed pretty excited by the whole thing. The biggest ovation was saved for Catán. If the rehearsal is any indication, it looks like opening night is on track to be a big success. Stay tuned for more.



Damn you Brian!

I was so ready to skip this and thought this post would verify my suspicion this was going to be a turkey. Now it looks like I'll be flying down to check it out.

Thanks : )

"or at least it appeared so from where I was sitting"

Yeah, she's pretty topless ;)


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